Thursday, September 14, 2006

I heard there was a secret chord

In art, as in many aspects of life, there can be a confidence, a drive, that transcends mere ability. We hear it in the singer, for example, who rises above the bounds of his or her instrument and soars, creating undying grace and art.

Sometimes the instrument is flawed, the voice can crack, the pitch can be less than certain, yet the certainty of the presentation is all that matters.

The fingers may slip on the frets, yet the notes claim their place in space, with a power not forged by skill alone.

Thus is talent expressed, in a magical confluence of drive, desire, and execution. Mere mortals can hope to achieve this, great artists do it unflinchingly. It may even seem naive, expressed with a childlike clarity of purpose that those of us who pretend to talent yearn for: the ability to overcome ourselves, to say, sing, or be what we wish to express.

While many musicians I admire fit this description, Jeff Buckley stands apart. I won't tell his story here, go to the wikipedia link for that. But here are two performences of his version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".

The first is pretty straight:

The second, is a little looser, and takes a few more chances, and thus may be the more intimate. You decide:

The album version was used in a very poignant moment on the TV series West Wing, if anyone remembers.